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Memorial Day Weekend Travels: South Dakota Days 1 and 2

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Memorial Day Weekend Travels: South Dakota Days 1 and 2

From 2010 05 29 Black Hills Day 2 Mt. Rushmore/Crazy Horse

From before we even moved to Nebraska (Dave learned we were moving here about 10 months before we arrived), I'd been bugging Dave for a family trip to Mount Rushmore. Just one of those things that I think Americans should see if able.

I was really hoping we could make the trip around Labor Day of 2009, but Dave had his gall bladder surgery around that time and his health wasn't really going to support such a long drive. For the most part, it was me bugging Dave to make the trip. Dave's mind was pretty full of work and trying to stay healthy, so he left it to me the take care of the logistics. I figured I could make this a camping trip.

Which I did. This past winter, I inventoried our camping equipment and used our REI dividends to get a new tent for the boys and some camp cooking equipment. I reserved space at a campground in the Black Hills about 15 miles from Mount Rushmore for Memorial Day weekend. Mount Rushmore is a pretty simple attraction, you can see all of it in just 2 hours, so we found out there was so much more to see in the Black Hills and we added Crazy Horse, Custer State Park and the 1880 Train to our itinerary.

We could bring Howie! Howie hasn't traveled much with us in Nebraska, so he's begun to think of a car ride as a bad thing: he was either going to the groomers or to the vet...neither of which he likes.  Dave and I were thrilled to include him in our plans.

Dave's organization granted a 4-day weekend for Memorial Day, so last Friday morning, we were off! We left around 7am and had a rather uneventful drive. We took I-29 north about 3 hours to Sioux Falls, SD, then turned left onto I-90 for the remaining 320 miles to Rapid City. From Rapid City our campground was about 20 more miles south. It was a challenge to choose a lunch option, though. We planned to stop at a restaurant for lunch, but with temperatures in the upper 80s, we couldn't leave Howie in the truck for long. We stopped at a Culver's in a town called Mitchell, SD...which apparently is home of a Corn Palace. We didn't go to see it, though...we wanted to press along on our trip.

For most of our 320 miles on I-90, we'd see these little billboards for a place called "Wall Drug". I didn't think to take pictures of the billboards, so I will refer you to this nice blog post that captures these little billboards well. I begged Dave to hop off the interstate so we could see this "Wall Drug" that taunted us for over 300 miles...and bless his heart, he did! I might have threatened Dave with Dave Barry's story of how he didn't stop at Wall Drug and his wife still reminds him constantly about it.

Unfortunately, the place is a couple miles off I-90, and it was so crowded, we'd have had to park several blocks away and walk over. It was in the upper 80s by this time (about 3pm) and we were worried about Howie. So we drove past the place, but didn't stop. I was okay with that.
From 2010 05 28 Black Hills Day 1

We had a nice treat at a Flying J truck stop in Rapid City, right at the exit to turn south towards the Black Hills. Parked over near the semi-trailers were several vehicles from the VORTEX2 Field Study. I won't spend a lot of time explaining this (click on the link), but it's the largest tornado research field study of it's kind, and I was excited to see several of the research vehicles parked right across the lot from where we were getting gas. I was also a bit nervous: VORTEX vehicles typically follow the severe weather, right? Did that mean our tents would be obliterated by a tornado Friday night???
From 2010 05 28 Black Hills Day 1

I couldn't help myself, while Dave was getting gas and making a restroom stop, I walked over to the students sitting in the vehicles and said hello. The students were from the University of Massachusetts and University of Oklahoma, and we discussed the severe potential in the Black Hills. Fortunately, the team was just on a rest day, and were planning to head into western North Dakota. I would love to have been part of this type of thing, but alas, I have a responsibility to my family. I would never take my kids tornado chasing...they can do it when they're older if they wish. I'll just have to wish these kids luck instead. Dave took a nice picture of me with this part of the team:
From 2010 05 28 Black Hills Day 1

So...9 1/2 hours after we left Bellevue, we pulled into our campsite. There was some musical-tentsiting that had to occur, since there was a flash flood 4 days prior that washed out about 10 of the sites. We ended up at an area with shared water instead of dedicated water, but that was okay...we were right next to the playground, the boys loved it!
From 2010 05 28 Black Hills Day 1
From 2010 05 28 Black Hills Day 1

We enjoyed burgers and brats for dinner, and s'mores for dessert!

Sunrise in the Black Hills was around 5:20am. We were on the far eastern edge of the Mountain Time zone. As sunlight started peeking into the tent on Saturday morning, I had glanced at my watch and saw 5am, I was flabbergasted! So I was out of my sleeping bag by 6am, I took Howie for a long walk up in the hills on the edge of the campground, then got breakfast going: bacon, pancakes and coffee (the coffee for Dave and me, not the boys!).
From 2010 05 29 Black Hills Day 2 Mt. Rushmore/Crazy Horse

By 9am we were on the way to Mount Rushmore. We took the scenic "Iron Mountain Road", which was so incredibly beautiful!

From 2010 05 29 Black Hills Day 2 Mt. Rushmore/Crazy Horse

At Mount Rushmore, we took a tour with the park ranger.  I'm so proud of how well Jacob was paying attention -- he was even answering questions about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln!  Timmy could take or leave the experience, he'd probably tell you his favorite part was climbing on the boulders!
From 2010 05 29 Black Hills Day 2 Mt. Rushmore/Crazy Horse
From 2010 05 29 Black Hills Day 2 Mt. Rushmore/Crazy Horse
From 2010 05 29 Black Hills Day 2 Mt. Rushmore/Crazy Horse

The first hour of our visit was pretty cloudy and drizzly, but by the time we finished up our park ranger tour, the sun was coming out and the temperature got warmer.
From 2010 05 29 Black Hills Day 2 Mt. Rushmore/Crazy Horse

I also couldn't resist getting the boys to pose for pictures of them picking George Washington's nose:
From 2010 05 29 Black Hills Day 2 Mt. Rushmore/Crazy Horse

We drove down into the touristy part of Keystone for lunch, and then we were planning a drive over to the Black Hills RR station in Hill City to walk around and perhaps see the train. Because of Howie we couldn't ride on the train, but that was okay. We found a small mountain road that seemed to parallel the tracks, and just before we got to Hill City, we heard the steam train whistle! Dave turned around and we followed the train almost all the way back to Keystone! Dave really enjoyed himself doing this, although the rest of us were happy after intercepting the train 2-3 times.
From 2010 05 29 Black Hills Day 2 Mt. Rushmore/Crazy Horse

After we followed the train for a distance, we went back to Hill City and visited the South Dakota Railroad Museum, and then went on to the Crazy Horse Memorial. Luckily for us, we got into the memorial for free because it was Memorial Day weekend and military members were admitted for free (a $27 savings)...to be honest, we probably wouldn't have driven all the way in otherwise. You can see the memorial from the main highway for free. But it was nice to spend some time at the Native American Museum just the same.
From 2010 05 29 Black Hills Day 2 Mt. Rushmore/Crazy Horse

We drove back to camp via the Needles Highway. Like the Iron Mountain Road, it's very windy, full of hairpin cliffy curves and the boys thought it was so much fun! They called these drives "roller coaster" drives!
From 2010 05 29 Black Hills Day 2 Mt. Rushmore/Crazy Horse

Dinner was chicken and rice topped with biscuits cooked in our small dutch oven -- yum!
From 2010 05 29 Black Hills Day 2 Mt. Rushmore/Crazy Horse

I was going to attempt to document our entire trip in this one Blog Post, but I won't kill you that way -- I'll cover the 2nd two days in a separate post. Now that I've figured out how to make photo collages on iPhoto, I can really compress some of the pictures too and make these posts more succinct. Enjoy!

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